Jewish zionist Pamela Geller and Islamophobia – The New Yorker
The winning cartoon in the contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad, early this month in Garland, Texas, which two gunmen attacked, depicts a fierce Prophet waving a scimitar and saying, “You can’t draw me!” The artist, whose hand and pencil are visible, replies from outside the frame, “That’s why I draw you.”
And so the principle of free speech confronted American society’s unwritten code of restraint on contemptuous stereotyping. Mocking Islam’s ban on images of Muhammad, the contest’s organizer, Pamela Geller, of a crusading anti-Muslim group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, invited cartoonists to compete for a ten-thousand-dollar prize. The winner, Bosch Fawstin, an Albanian Muslim who had renounced Islam, went into hiding.
Freedom of expression suddenly looked like two overlays on a map, the legal landscape and the cultural landscape, each with its own boundaries. The First Amendment protects the legal right to almost all expression, on the understanding that the best answer to offensive speech is more speech. Culturally, however, Americans have generally limited what they say out of respect for the dignity of others. People who violate the limits can suffer opprobrium, damage to their reputations, and even the loss of their jobs. Let us hope that they cannot also lose their lives.
No such opprobrium exists in the subculture of anti-Islam activists that has developed since 9/11.
Geller, who gained fame by opposing the effort to build a mosque and Muslim community center near the site of the World Trade Center, is “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. Geller operates within a context that includes groups with names like Jihad Watch, Now the End Begins, Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood in America, Understanding the Threat, and Discover the Networks, which sound the alarm about the supposed encroachment of Sharia, or Islamic law. They work to convince the public that the Muslim Brotherhood is pursuing a grand plan to infiltrate and subvert the United States, facilitated by Americans’ complacency, and in the process earn ample profits, judging by the flourishing cottage industry of books, videos, Web sites, and training courses for police departments.
Virtually all the alarm over the coming Islamic takeover and the spread of Sharia law can be traced back to an old document of questionable authority and relevance, “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America.” Dated May 22, 1991, it was found in 2004 by the F.B.I., buried in one of a large number of boxes uncovered during a search of a house in northern Virginia. (I reported on the discovery and the use of the document for my book “Freedom of Speech: Mightier than the Sword.”) It is cited on numerous Web sites, and in articles, videos, and training materials, which quote one another in circular arguments. Its illusion of importance was enhanced by federal prosecutors, who included it in a trove of documents introduced into evidence in the 2007 trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a charitable organization ultimately convicted of sending money to Hamas.
The memo, however, is far from probative. It was never subjected to an adversarial test of its authenticity or significance. Examined closely, it does not stand up as an authoritative prescription for action. Rather, it appears to have been written as a plea to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership for action, by an author we know little about, Mohamed Akram. He is listed elsewhere as a secretary in the Brotherhood, but he writes in the tone of an underling. Islam watchers do not quote his appeal that the recipients “not rush to throw these papers away due to your many occupations and worries. All that I’m asking of you is to read them and to comment on them.” These lines reveal the memo as a mere proposal, now twenty-four years old. No other copies have come to light.
Two features of the memo are highlighted by the Islam watchers: first, its assertion that “the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within,” and, second, “a list of our organizations and the organizations of our friends.” One of the more prominent organizations on the list is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which opposes discrimination against Muslims and, on its Web site, has featured videos of American Muslims rejecting acts of terrorism as violations of Islam’s tenets. But the peaceful rhetoric is just a ruse, John Guandolo, a former F.B.I. agent, contends.
Guandaolo allowed me to attend a training session he held for community activists. In his presentations, he conflates the named organizations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood with Hamas, the radical movement that evolved from the Brotherhood and now rules the Gaza Strip. So the memo’s list of friendly organizations, which may have been compiled casually by a wishful-thinking operative, becomes a tool of guilt by association.
Whenever a sheriff’s department or local police force hires Guandolo to train officers in the dangers of a Muslim takeover, CAIR and Muslim community centers push back hard, urging that the sessions be cancelled. They don’t always succeed, but when a department capitulates and calls off the course, Guandolo publishes blog posts accusing police officials of giving in to Hamas. Last fall, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona opposed a scheduled training session, he urged that the group be indicted, for giving “material support” to Hamas, as a designated terrorist organization.
What these activists say about Islam and their right to say it are different issues, now entangled. By attacking the cartoon gathering, the gunmen in Texas have reframed the argument about it in favor of their enemies. Without their attack, the focus would have been on the bigotry of the cartoon exercise. It is now also on freedom of thought—“not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes declared.
Geller claimed that from the beginning the cartoon contest “was about freedom of speech, period.” Handed the chance to bask in righteousness, she took it with her customary flair for hyperbole, telling CNN, “Increasingly, we are abridging our freedoms so as not to offend savages. The very idea that if something offends me or I’m insulted by something I’ll kill you and that way I can get my way, and somehow this is O.K. with members of the élite media and academia, is outrageous.”